MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Minnesota couple was one of the first exposed to what would become the COVID-19 pandemic. Amy Ellefson and Ron Hildeen were on the Diamond Princess cruise in February of 2020.

As the virus spread aboard the ship, they were taken off, and forced to quarantine at an air force base in California. WCCO talked with them about what’s happened since then.

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Ellefson and Hildeen were some of the first Americans to quarantine, and they did so for a month. First on the Diamond Princess docked in Japan, then again when they made it back to the United States.

“It’s amazing what has happened. I mean, you’re looking at tens of millions of people that have been affected,” Hildeen said.

Given their experience, they were early adopters of wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing.

“And then when we got back here, people thought ‘we don’t have to do that.’ It was real strange not having people buy into that right away,” Ellefson said.

That changed over time, and became mandatory. The couple continued some routines that started on the ship.

“Things like taking temperature every day, we still do that,” Ellefson said.

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The couple over 70 has stayed healthy, and they’ve only quarantined again to meet a new grandson. Like many of us, they’ve made the most of the last year.

“I’ve painted five rooms. I’ve made three quilts. I’ve organized every drawer. We’ve done zoom family birthday parties, and gotten together a little with the family, but not much. Nothing with our friends yet,” Ellefson said.

A year later, they’ve adjusted to how things are going.

“At first I was more anxious for it to be over and now, I’m settling into the new norm,” Ellefson said.

They’d still like to do more, but they are waiting until they’re vaccinated.

“I think when the vaccine is more distributed, when the numbers go way down, for a longer period of time, and stay down,” Ellefson said.

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They are most looking forward to a long road trip, and spending more time with family, when they feel it’s safe to do so. They said they will go on another cruise. Their next destination: New Zealand.

Jennifer Mayerle